In the late 1970s, the FBI in the US ran a sting operation that initially targeted the trafficking of stolen property but morphed into an investigation of corruption by government officials. This investigation, which was dubbed “Abscam”, ultimately led to the conviction of a US senator, six members of Congress, one state senator, some city councillors and the mayor of Camden, NJ.
To help plan and conduct the operation, the FBI hired a convicted con artist, Melvin Weinberg.
As AMERICAN HUSTLE begins, we are told that some of what we’re about to see actually happened. The names have all been changed but the story of cons, double crosses, love, disco music, sexy plunging necklines and bad comb overs is basically true.
In the film, Irving Rosenfeld and Lady Edith Greensly run a successful scam operation in the NY/NJ area where they secure loans – for a small fee – for people who have poor credit. But the scam is that while they never do get the loans, they do, however, get the fee. Things are running well until they come up against hyperactive FBI agent Richie DiMaso who presents them with an offer they cannot refuse: They either assist the FBI in a sting operation or else face jail time for their crimes. Irv and Lady Edith agree to work with the FBI but they’re not done with their conning ways, and both of them play mind games with DiMaso who is both arrogant and naïve enough to think that he is the one who controls their collective destiny.
AMERICAN HUSTLE is billed as a comedy crime-drama. In fact, at the recent Golden Globe awards, the film won as Best Comedy. Yes, there were funny moments but not ones that will make you roar with laughter. They were more like “I can’t believe this really happened… or that even some of it happened”. The story really is too good to believe but when corruption and greed are involved, truth can be stranger than fiction.
The film is directed by David O. Russell, who also helmed SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and THE FIGHTER. In AMERICAN HUSTLE, Russell reunites some of the actors he worked with on his other films including the Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro. All these actors shine in this film. Christian Bale, who has been known to lose as much as 60 pounds for some of his film roles, reportedly gained 43 pounds and donned a tacky, bird’s nest hair prosthetic for his role as the paunchy, smarmy Rosenfeld. Amy Adams was brilliant as Irving’s partner-in-crime, who is just as addicted to the hustle as he is. Bradley Cooper keeps surprising me as it would seem that he’s not just another pretty face. It turns out he’s a pretty good actor too. As FBI agent DiMaso whose 1970s perm is wound as tightly as his demeanour, Cooper injects the right amount of crazy into every scene. But the greatest praise goes to Jennifer Lawrence who, as Irving’s semi-neglected wife, Rosalyn, seems to delight in stirring up trouble. She is as slick as her red nail varnish. In one scene, she blows up their brand new microwave oven (which she calls “the science oven”) by putting a metal container inside. One isn’t sure if she really is that dumb or she did it just to get Irving to come home.
AMERICAN HUSTLE is clever, gaudy and raucous. It will have you hooked by the first scene so enjoy the ride!
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link, select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 44:30.)